Race Report: 2019 Youngstown Half Marathon

I signed up for this race about a month ahead of time because I decided to head back to Youngstown to help my family (which is a story in itself). If you’ve ever been to the Mahoning Valley you’d know it’s a dying area, especially since the last big manufacturing plant in the area (GM Lordstown) just closed. It’s not a town with an optimistic outlook on the future.

Like I said, I was only there to help my family, we needed to clean out my grandparents’ home so it could be sold. No sane person would say this area is a vacation destination, all I have there are my parents and grandparents. Anyone that became successful left town and anyone who stayed is most likely dead or in jail. Heroin and opioids have run roughshod over the area and the expo actually had a booth for addiction (I don’t know how many addicts actually would run a half marathon or marathon so maybe it wasn’t the correct target audience). At least the shirt was pretty cool.

About 95% of the course went through Mill Creek Park and because I hadn’t been there in the 16 years I needed to do a preview (I had taken some senior pictures there). It’s the middle of fall in Northeast Ohio so all the tree leaves were in the process of changing and falling which would give me some picturesque views. I ran some of the course a few days prior to get a feel for the hills, especially by Old Furnace. Most of the course is windy as it hugs the curves and contours of the creek and lakes. It’s kind of neat because you find yourself running in a tunnel of trees. My preview run was pretty slow because I stopped to take so many pictures.

Race day didn’t feel the same as most. I was pretty exhausted from the short, poor quality sleep I got while I was there. I ate three White House Farms donuts beforehand because I didn’t have Danielle’s banana bread, which I’d pay for later.

When I arrived at Second Sole I was welcomed by wind and dark, gloomy skies (your typical NE Ohio weather). The rain from the tropical storm had passed an hour before. There were more people than I thought, most were in enormous lines at the porta-potties. I had to go to, so I walked 1000 feet down the road to Dunkin’ Donuts where there were only six people in line. Whoever was in there when I walked in the door took 10 minutes. Dude, it’s drop and go, if you can’t do that then you should be able to make it through the race, that or get the fuck off your phone, you’re not on company time. I left with about eight minutes to race start. When I got there I immediately ran into my mom. I told everyone don’t bother getting up early because I thought the weather would be garbage, but she made it like she said she would.

It was a gun start in the middle of route 224. I got out the gate pretty well and felt comfortable, the first mile was at 6:44. By mile two I felt like doing the half was a bad idea, I could tell I wasn’t in road race shape and hadn’t been since before the accident. I was about to be in for a bad time. I saw my mom just before mile three, spectating wasn’t too difficult on the first half of the course, she just couldn’t cross to the other side. By mile three I started to feel sick from how heavy the cake donuts were. The sweat on my face started to burn my eyes.

I crossed Shields Road and started the rolling parts of the course. Until then the tree cover wasn’t extremely dense, but now it became thick. With more trees cake more wet leaves. I started to back off the throttle so I didn’t slip and fall, with no health insurance a fast time wasn’t worth it.

The course started to wind around Lake Newport and soon I was engrossed in a full blown canopy of trees that blocked out the grey skies above. I entered Idora at mile four running about 8:00/mile. The water was rushing over the falls at Lanterman’s Mill as I passed by. For a small race the crowd support was pretty strong, especially at intersections. It was really hard to get access anywhere else because most of the course is only pedestrian and bike access.

I rounded a corner and headed downhill at mile five and saw my mom again. She managed to get to one of the side streets that dead ends right at the course on Cohasset Drive. That would be the last time I’d see her until the finish.

I entered Old Furnace and prepared to go downhill crossing over Mill Creek. What goes down has to come back up. The hill on the other side would be the toughest climb of the day. I felt like I wasn’t going anywhere against the wall of wind I was met with. I must have been at 12:00/mile as I headed up.

Once I made it to the top I found someone I could tuck in behind at run a good pace at for a few miles. The blueberry donuts started to come up my esophagus and I struggled to keep them down. The canopy of trees opened up temporarily to allow us to cross over the Disney princess bridge. I struggled to get up the second hardest climb at Parkview.

By mile nine I couldn’t keep the donuts down anymore and just turned my head to the side and let it out. I didn’t break my stride though. A mile later I started to get stomach cramps and fell off the pace of the person I was trailing.

The winds started to pick up again in the clearing around the west side of Lake Newport. I started to slow to an 8:30/mile pace around mile 11 because of sharp pains emanating from my hips. I walked for about 20 seconds trying to loosen them up. Luckily the last two miles were flat.

The course leaves the park with a mile to go. From following the mile markers on the course I was willing to bet it’d come up about two tenths short. As I headed east I could see people turning left. I must have overlooked this small bow at the end because it was unexpected. As I rounded the final corner I kicked to the finish, passing a few runners along the way (which all happened to be in my age group). I finished with a time of 1:44:04 (7:57/mile) and for not having my best day I was happy with it. I got to enjoy a good stroll through the park and finally get a little free time to myself.

After the race there were physical therapists available to help my stretch my legs. With no Danielle on the trip I’ll take it. There was local pizza from Marco’s Pizza and some local craft beer (all the craft breweries in the area sprang up long after I left so it was new to me). The medal was pretty cool, the letters had steel rivets in them (it is a former steel town), there’s an elevation chart line showing the Mahoning Valley, an outline out the Youngstown skyline (there’s a skyline?!), and a star for the city of Youngstown. For being the hometown race I was glad to get the pin for our race map.

 

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